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Yes, there is a Santa Claus; he’s just not on the zoning board

6/15/2013 | Real Estate Blog

The five members of a Pennsylvania town’s Zoning Hearing Board will be getting lumps of coal in their stockings at Christmas — or even sooner — if one neighborhood has anything to say about it. The board recently vetoed a variance that would have allowed a family to build an “accessory structure” in their front yard. The variance was needed because the structure violated the 35-foot setback mandated by borough law.

This wasn’t just any structure, though. It was an 8-foot by 6-foot treehouse that the homeowner was building for his 11-year-old daughter.

The little girl’s birthday was in May; it was at her party that she asked her father to build her a treehouse. The challenge was that there are no trees in the yard, just a tree stump in the front yard. It seemed like as good a place as any, so the homeowner set about building it. 

Friends and neighbors loved the idea, but when a zoning code enforcement officer drove by one day, she noticed that the structure was too big for the lot. She reported the violation. The homeowner stopped building the treehouse and started building support for his appeal to the borough’s Zoning Hearing Board. 

For a solid hour, the homeowner and his family, people from the neighborhood and friends told the board about the little girl’s wish and their unquestioning support of the variance. The board deliberated for a few minutes and came back with the bad news.

The law is the law, the board said. There are no two ways about it. Borough ordinances are based on state law, and under state law the treehouse is too big. Why not, the chairman added, build the treehouse elsewhere on the lot, on a lumber block instead of the tree stump. The structure, he assured the homewoner, would be more stable and in compliance with the code.

The suggestion was small comfort for the homeowner, and no comfort at all for his daughter. She reportedly burst into tears as he wondered aloud how anyone could deny a child a treehouse.

At the end of the meeting, it was still not clear what the homeowner’s next step would be.

Source: News & Tribune, “Pa. zoning board orders removal of young girl’s tree house,” June 7, 2013